The Brussels store is no longer empty


When Heather Truett and Nick Waack fell in love with the old Brussels building in 2014, they knew it was the place where they wanted to create their dream for the future. What they didn’t know then – but would soon hear from longtime residents of the community – was not just how happy these locals were to see a new business come to town, but also how this business would continue a story that began over 100 years ago. since.

Brussels, which is part of the largest Belgian colony outside of Belgium, was founded in 1858. Most of the current residents are descendants of the first settlers and they are proud of their heritage. So, before telling the story of Truett and Waack, a look at the history of the old building that drew them to Brussels is appropriate.

In 1906, when Gabe Pierre’s daughter, Mae, was two years old, Pierre opened a general store on Route de l’Ecole in Brussels. As a local newspaper ran an article celebrating the 50th anniversary of Pierre’s store – “Brussels’ oldest business establishment” – Mae said she had been working there since she was eight.

In 1956, Mae and Clarence Henquinet, whom she married in 1926, had run the store for decades, but she hadn’t forgotten the early days, “when people were wary of the first canned goods that came out, the overalls cost $ 98. cents, everyone would buy coffee beans in 100 pound bags and grind their own coffee, and people would wash their clothes with bar soap because that was all there was.

Clarence remembered buying 400 100-pound bags of flour to supply customers all winter. He also recalled that before Highway 57 was built in the late 1920s, the weekly trip to Green Bay took two days, either by team and wagon, or horse and sleigh.

Mae and Clarence both died in 1970, and as far as longtime Brussels residents remember, that was pretty much the end of the ‘Five Corners’ store – the nickname for the area that encompasses the intersection. County C, County DK, School Road and Junction Road. A hardware store owned by John Long briefly went bankrupt.

In the mid-1980s, a Chicago man bought the building. Before his death in the early 2000s, the second floor apartment was rented out to a series of people, but the ground floor remained vacant.

After the last tenants left the apartment, the windows were boarded up, the garage door and roof collapsed, and the ivy grew so prolifically that it almost hid the building, including the colorful advertisements painted on it. the western brick wall generations ago.

Although the sign still proclaimed the building as Brussels’ store, the city had been without a retail establishment for almost half a century when Truett and Waack stumbled upon it in the fall of 2014. They had recently purchased a shack to Gardner and commuted. weekends from home and full time work in Green Bay and Kiel.

Owners Nick Waack (left) and Heather Truett have brought the Pioneer Pantry back to life. photo by Brett Kosmider.

Their goal was to run a business that would allow them to live in Door County year round, and they hoped to use Waack’s many years of retail management experience.

“We knew we wanted some sort of store,” Waack said. “Not exactly a convenience store, but a convenience store. “

This statement is typical of their desire to be part of the community and their love for rural life. The small area surrounding their cabin, for example, now houses 12 French Angora rabbits, six alpacas, four ducks, four cats, a dog, a parrot and “about a million chickens”.

“We wanted the kind of store we would buy in,” Truett said, “with prices equal to or lower than big box stores. A place where local residents could do their everyday shopping without paying for what tourists do elsewhere.

They bought the building in March 2017 and set out to restore it to near-original condition. Before that, however, there were decisions about what kind of merchandise they would put on the shelves.

“Buying for the store is one of the fun parts of the business,” Truett said. “A shopping spree!”

“At one point,” Waack said, “we thought about just doing the groceries, but locals who passed by to see what was going on said they really needed a place to buy the kind. material that you always seem to be lacking in the middle of a project, and then we thought of all the other things that it would be good to have a source for without a 20 or 30 mile trip.

The Pioneer Pantry opened on December 6, 2019. Waack relies on his contacts from his former retail job to earn product discounts.

“We are getting store liquidations that go bankrupt, closures and manufacturer overruns,” he said. “The prices are significantly lower and I don’t need to order huge quantities.

Because the goods arrive in fairly small batches, there is frequent turnover on the shelves – a good reason buyers stop often.

Pioneer Pantry is the kind of place where you can find a lot of the stuff you need – and a lot of the stuff you didn’t realize you needed. Most brands are familiar, but the prices will likely come as a surprise: $ 3.50 for a large, super plush bath towel; 25 cents for a candy bar; and $ 3.50 for a planner marked $ 14.99 by the manufacturer.

There was a constant stream of clients the day Truett and Waack were interviewed. Most of them bought enough to fill boxes, including a couple from Sturgeon Bay who stopped to shop on their way to Green Bay.

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